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The Carchive: The Lancia Y10

Chris Haining June 23, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 19 Comments

From last week’s look at the Mazda 626, a car that had buyers both sides of the Atlantic abandoning domestic rivals in droves, we turn our attentions to a car that, as far as I know, was never sold Stateside in any official capacity.

It was an interesting car, an interesting design and an interesting premise. Using engineering shared by the utilitarian yet loveable Fiat Panda, the Lancia (née Autobianchi) Y10 was intended to offer all the benefits of a tiny car, with much of the luxury of a far larger one. That was the idea, anyway.

“The first compact luxury car”

This obviously depended on your definition of the word “compact”, but nobody could possibly dispute that the diminutive Y10 was significantly tinier than the Cadillac Cimarron or Lincoln Versailles. At less than 3.4 metres in length, the Lancia would fit in a generously sized American glovebox.

Yet, despite its rather abbreviated shape, the boxy Italian was remarkably aerodynamic. Owing to a lack of drip-rails, flush-mounted side glass and a cleverly contoured bonnet, the coefficient of drag was just 0.31 – an impressive figure at the time.

“Inside, the car has all of the standard equipment of a much larger saloon (without the price tag)”

By 1980s standards, this was correct. Although the entry-level Y10 did without electric windows in favour of keep-fit items, and central locking was nowhere to be seen, these were still far from being routinely found in larger cars of the time. The real luxury of the entry-level Y10 wasn’t the kit it could boast, but how well the interior was furnished.

Its dashboard was wrapped in Alcantara suede, the seats were upholstered in Italian wool, and everything had something of a ‘designer’ air. It was almost enough that you could forget that it was motivated by the same 999cc, 45bhp four-cylinder engine as the Panda, and shared its ‘omega’ suspension design.

“As the name suggests it is a long-legged car ideally suited for the open road”

The Touring was rather more elaborately equipped than the entry-level car. Here, Alcantara could be found not just on the dashboard and door coverings, but upholstering the seats, too. Electric windows and central locking made an appearance, too.

The driver sat behind a dashboard that positively erupted with information. As well as adding a tachometer, the Touring introduced gauges for both oil pressure and temperature, and a vacuum-operated economy gauge. There was also a graphical display to monitor doors that might be ajar, bulb failures and any number of other faults.

There was also a slightly fascinating all-electronic heater – a kind of primitive climate control that didn’t incorporate air conditioning.

“The 1049cc engine reaches giddy performance heights for one of its size”

This was no word of a lie, either. The Y10 used the same engine as the Touring, albeit turbocharged to produce 85bhp instead of 55bhp. This was enough to make it rather nippy – 112mph and 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds was no joke in 1986. A tiny Turbo badge appeared on the prominent front grille, but the Turbo graphic above the rocker panels were far more strident.

Equipment was otherwise essentially as with the Touring, but it came as no surprise to see the economy gauge replaced by a turbo boost gauge. In fact, fuel economy wasn’t a strong point – 33.6mpg at 75mph was somewhat unspectacular for a small car, and nippiness wasn’t quite enough of an excuse.

The Y10 did have its following, but it wasn’t universally loved by the UK motoring press. The way the Y10 rode came in for particular criticism – the Panda had always been a rather bouncy, uncontrolled conveyance, and no amount of plush trim and clever gadgets could conceal the Y10’s distinctly un-luxury parentage. Still, a brilliant looking – if tragically flawed – little thing.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Lancia doesn’t sell cars outside Italy any more – my favourite in recent years was the Lancia Thesis, which everybody else I know seems to hate. I clearly move in the wrong circles)

  • Rover 1

    This car also quickly got the ‘nickname’ of White Hen. (Not really a nickname, how else do you enunciate ‘Y Ten’ ?)

    • jim

      “how else do you enunciate ‘Y Ten’ ?”

      In italy, it was pronounced as “Ypsilon Dieci”.

  • Alff

    Take heed, Chrysler brand

  • cap’n fast

    i am awaiting some brave person to issue a road test article on the LS-1 powered Smart for Two i have heard about which is supposed to be roaming around Austin, Texas after dark.
    Y10 being a snappy little scrapper should have made it to the states like a lot of other really good cars should have. better and great will always be the enemy of good.

  • Desmo

    Dude….I dunno how to tell it to you …let me put it that way:
    Lancia Y10 was a girl’s car and errhmm…your are talking about lipsticks here.

    • I would have quite liked to meet a girl with a Y10 Turbo. My kind of girl.

      • Monkey10is

        Indeed. I’d even have listened dreamily as she talked about lipsticks…

  • Victor

    Nice concept, the small luxury car local grocery getter with class.

    • outback_ute

      Today there is the Audi A1 instead, or perhaps the Mini

      • Monkey10is

        Or, most obviously, the Fiat 500. The Y10 may not have been quite the hit they hoped (outside of Italy) but the 500 brought a ‘retro’-inspired answer to the same question and – in Europe at least – seems to have been a massive success.

        A1/Mini etc. are all a distinct step up in size (the Y10 was really small, below the ‘supermini’ Polo/Metro/205/Fiesta/Corsa/Uno class). The SmartforTwo could perhaps be the better modern day non-Fiat group equivalent.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    I think I actually have that brochure or something close to it that i picked up on trip the UK. It sticks in my mind as the first time I heard of Alcantara upholstery. Also it seemed like a neat little car with a bit mor style than a Fiat Uno,

  • Monkey10is

    I remember that the most striking feature of the Y10 (and one that really polarised opinion) was that whatever colour the bodywork the rear hatch was always the same matt black. I assume that it was a styling attempt to match to the ABS bumpers and to visually truncate the car a little. (This was before body colour bumpers were viable on a car at this price). The photography in the brochure above — all three cars against a black background — shows a little of what they were trying to achieve; on the road (often without convenient black backgrounds) the rear hatch was a real ‘love it or hate it’ feature.

    I suspect that whilst this was perhaps seen as chic in Paris or Milan in the UK ‘socially aspiring’ superminis tended to sell on a more conservative ‘sloane’/Country Life/Laura Ashley image — with special editions seemingly alll named ‘Kensington’, ‘Knightsbridge;, ‘Badminton’, ‘Ascot’ etc. and advertising featring young debutantes taking tea at polo matches… Our loss.

    • Precisely. It’s fair to say that, while a healthy number of global carbuyers are influenced by innovation and quality of design, a far greater number buy on perceived image and status.

    • Manic_King

      Yeah, not sure if we have Hooniversity anymore or a place where there could be a question: “all the cars with intentionally different colored body panels, please.” That black rear end was kinda rare I quess.

      • Monkey10is

        Good category: I’d nominate the anodised aluminium cant rails on early Audi A1s and the Citroen Pluriel – but maybe ‘bare metal’ finish shouldn’t count or every Smart and 911 Targas old and new would be included?

      • Monkey10is

        There are also the obvious examples such as the matt black bonnet/hood seen on lots of competition cars (Safari Rally Lancers anyone?) and the 1970s police Range Rovers – in both cases to avoid glare – or the white roofs (regardless of body colour) on many utility vehicles to reduce overheating in hot climates (just picture any Series Land Rover, hardtop Bronco or FJ40…),

  • CraigSu

    Y10 Fire as the entry-level version? Might as well have called it the Y10 Pinto, although Ford might have taken issue with that.

    • Monkey10is

      ‘Fully integrated robotised engine’ = Fire …if my memory serves me right?

      I think it was a Fiat innovation; I certainly seem to remember Unos and Tipos being advertised with the same. I don’t remember what was meant to be clever about it.

      • Rover 1

        It was designed to be made using robotic machinary, rather than hand assembly. Fiat owns the Comau brand of robot tools which is the biggest manufacturer of such things, eg Toyota, Honda, Ford and GM use them.